Saint Albert the Great
By Sue Levesque
St. Albert the Great (Albertus) was born in Lauingen on the Danube, near Ulm, Germany at the Danube, near Ulm, Germany at the beginning of the thirteenth century. As a young man Albert studied at the University of Padua, the seat of one of the most famous medieval universities. During his stay in Padua he attended the Church of the Dominicans. It is during this time Albert had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who convinced him to enter Holy Orders. In 1223 (or 1221) he became a member of the Dominican Order, against the wishes of his family. His first assignment was the position of lecturer at Cologne, Germany, where the Dominicans had a house, he taught for several years. In 1245 he came to the University of Paris, where he received his doctorate and taught for some time as a Master of Theology with great success. It was during this time Thomas Aquinas began to study under Albertus.
Albertus was the first to comment on virtually all of the writings of Aristotle, thus making them accessible to wider academic debate. He was ahead of his time in the attitude towards science. Two aspects of this attitude deserve to be mentioned: 1) he did not only study science from books, as other academics did in his day, but actually observed and experimented with nature (the rumors staring by those who did not understand this are probably at the source of Albert’s supposed connections with the alchemy and witchcraft). 2) he took from Aristotle the view that scientific method had to be appropriate to the objects of the scientific discipline at hand (in discussions with Roger Bacon, who, like many 20th century academics, thought the science should be based on mathematics).
Prestigious tasks were assigned to him. In 1248, he was charged with opening theological studium
at Cologne, one of the most important regional capitals of Germany. He brought with him from Paris an exceptional student, Thomas Aquinas. The sole merit of having been St. Thomas’s teacher would suffice to elicit profound administration for St. Albert. In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial of the Dominican Fathers, he distinguished himself for the zeal with which he excercised this ministry. He was especially known for acting as a mediator between conflicting parties. In Cologne he is not only known for being the founder of Germany’s oldest university there, but also for “the big verdict” (der Grose Schied) of 1258, which brought an end to the conflict between the citizens of Cologne and the archbishop.
His gifts did not escape the attention of the Pope of that time, Alexander IV, who wanted Albert
with him for a certain time at Anagni where the Popes went frequently in Rome itself and at Viterbo, in order to avail himself of Albert’s theological advice. The same Supreme Pontiff appointed Albert Bishop of Regensburg, a large and celebrated diocese, but which was going through a difficult period. From 1260 to 1262, Albert exercised this ministry with unflagging dedication, succeeding in restoring peace and harmony to the city, in reorganizing parishes and convents and in giving a new impetus to charitable activities.
In the year of 1263-1264, Albert preached in Germany and in Bohemia, at the request of Pope
Urban IV. As a man of prayer, science, and charity, his authoritative intervention in various events of the church and of the society of the time were acclaimed: above all, he was a man of reconcilation and peace. In 1270 he preached the eight Crusade in Austria. Albert did his utmost during the Second Council of Lyons, in 1274, summoned by Pope Gregory X, to encourage union between the Latin and Greek churches after the separation of the great schism with the East in 1054.
Among the last of his labors was the defense of the orthodoxy of his former pupil, Thomas Aquinas whose death in 1274 grieved Albertus. After suffering a collapse of health in 1278, he died on November 15th, 1280 in Cologne, Germany. His tomb is in the crypt of the Domincan Church of St. Andreas in Cologne, and his relics at the Cologne Cathedral.